Jesus didn’t speak English (Part 1)

Bible verse used in the podcast

  • Aramaic: Daniel 2- 7 and Ezra 4-7 

Interesting resources

The Bible wasn’t written in English

This may come as a shock to some but Jesus did not speak English. The old testament was written in Hebrew and some portions in Aramaic. Aramaic is used in only a handful of places, the most notable place would be parts of Daniel 2- 7 and Ezra 4-7. There are other words and phrases used but overall the rest of the old testament was written in Hebrew. For a time, the text was originally in paleo Hebrew script which was a picture form of the characters.

After the Babylonian captivity the letters changed into the characters form known today. The old testament in Hebrew is referred to as the Tanakh. The first five books Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers are called the Torah (or Pentateuch), the Law of Mose, Moses’ Law, or simply the Law in different places in the bible.

Before this time of the New Testament, Alexander the Great conquered the land of Israel and the surrounding territories. During that time Greek culture was enforced as the main language and many people started speaking in greek; specifically koine greek. The language of Greeks became so dominant that the Jewish communities wanted a translation of the Old Testament in greek. This translation is called the Septuagint (LXX). This was then used by the church as a common old testament in greek. The new Testament was written completely in greek (with some borrowed words). Often the new testament writers quote from the Septuagint 

The question is how reliable are these writings? This question can be broken into a few parts: Is the text Inspired? How do we know? Is the text we have now the same as when it was written? How do we know it has not been changed? Are there any contradictions? First, we will deal with the question “how do we know the bible is the same and has not changed?”

Old testament scribble traditions

First looking at the old testament, In ancient times, the old testament was copied by the scribes of Israel. The people were educated and trained for this job. Some give the idea, well the bible was retold over and over again and the meaning has been lost like the game of telephone. This did not happen with the bible simply because of this process of writing down. The scribes had (and still do) a long list of rules about how manuscripts are to be copied down:

 Scribal copying rules 19

  1. Must be written on the skins of clean animals  
  2. Must be prepared for synagogue use by a Jew only
  3. Must be fastened together with strings taken from clean animals.  
  4. Each skin must contain an exact number of columns, which must be equal throughout the entire manuscript  
  5. The length of each column must be between 48 and 60 lines.  
  6. The breadth of each column must consist of 30 letters  
  7. The whole copy must be first lined, if 3 words were written without a line it was considered worthless.  
  8. The ink must be black only and prepared according to a special recipe that was used only for copying of scripture 
  9.  The original used to make the copy must be authentic and must not be deviated from the copyist and the scribe must say each word aloud as he wrote it.  
  10. No word or letter could ever be written from memory, the scribe must always look first at the original before writing his copy.  
  11. A space of a hair or thread must intervene between each consonant  
  12. A space of the breadth of 9 consonants must come between each section  No word must ever touch another  
  13. A space of 3 lines must come between every book  
  14. The 5th book of Moses (Deuteronomy) must end exactly with a line  Before copying, the scribe must wash his whole body  While copying, the scribe must only write the name of God with a pen newly dipped into the ink  
  15. Each time the scribe came across the Hebrew word for God, he had to wipe his pen clean. And when he came across the name of God, Jehovah (YHWH), he had to wash his whole body before he could write it. 
  16.  Should a king address the scribe while writing that name he must take no notice of him  
  17. If a sheet of parchment had one mistake on it, the sheet was condemned. If there were three mistakes found on any page, the whole manuscript was condemned. 
  18. Each scroll had to be checked within thirty days of its writing, or it was considered unholy.  
  19. Every word and every letter was counted. If a letter or word was omitted, the manuscript was condemned.

That is not enough, every single detail is copied, even stylistic details. There are different manuscripts with different traditional styles. They would often format the text so they have the same amount of letters and lines as previous ones, they would often elongate letters at the end of a line so there are no uneven lines and start a new line when the words do not fit. Sometimes the letters were decorated and these decorative markings were kept exactly the same. These do have variations because different scribble groups did have different styles they keep up. But this only changed the format and detailing of the text, not the words of the text. 

Often if mistakes were made in the text, the whole thing was destroyed and set aside as unfit for use. When writings containing the name of God were demanded they would often place them in genizahs which held the manuscripts for letters. These Genizahs sometimes held other documents but often were special places ordained by a temple.

Interesting side notes

There was a built-in spell-check system in each writing. Each letter in Hebrew has a number associated with it. What the priest would do is count up the total value of these letters and check to see if they matched previous copies. If not, then that means either the person counted wrong or there was a mistake and often the copies had to be reviewed by others within a time frame before it was considered good to use.

One thing to keep in mind, in those days, the religious leaders had a large emphasis on interpreting the text. Often you see them acting as religious lawyers and each letter of the text was extremely important because that is where loops or strict traditions come from. You can see this happen often when the Pharisees try to ask Jesus theological questions. They took every bit of the text as holy and important and to preserve the text was of high importance because their entire way of life depended on it.

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